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MLS Combine Day Two: The cream rises

The best thing you can say about day two at the MLS Combine is that it probably helped restore the faith of MLS coaches who might have been staring at their draft picks like expired lottery tickets.

Top prospects Patrick Nyarko and Eric Avila made their first appearances while several other blue chippers had their games show up.

The 2008 MLS draft doesn’t have any ready-made stars, but plenty of players with potential that coaches can work with. We saw much more of that potential on Sunday.

Here are the players who I thought did the most for their stock, and those who are failing to make the most of their best chance to impress MLS coaches:


ERIC AVILA- The draft’s best attacking midfielder showed why he’s way up most teams’ draft boards. His vision, touch and creativity were on full display. There are still concerns about him being physically equipped to handle the rigors of midfield play in MLS but on Sunday I saw a player who is always looking to make the incisive pass.

PATRICK NYARKO– Showed the tools that have many coaches pegging him to be the first player chosen. He has speed and really good touch on the ball, but it was his passing that impressed on Sunday. He didn’t have any real chances to run at the defense and show his ability to create and finish a shot, but he showed enough to make you see why he’s so highly touted.

JULIUS JAMES– So about the criticisms I had for James on day one? Yeah, forget them. James is big,fast, strong and poised. He’s the real deal and showed it on Sunday. When you talk about the short list of MLS-ready players in this draft, James is one of them.

SEAN FRANKLIN– A friend at the draft told me to keep an eye out for Franklin and he was definitely on to something. Franklin did everything you could ask a right back could do. He shut down wingers that tried to take him one on one. He delivered crisp passes to the midfield, made smart and quick runs when he saw opportunities and even pressured defenders when he had the chance. He also has an MLS-ready physique.

CHANCE MYERS– Myers didn’t have a ton of touches on the ball on Sunday but what he did with those chances left several coaches impressed. He’s fast, agressive and also has the touch and vision to deliver pin-point passes out of the back. Teams looking for athletic left backs, like the Red Bulls, will be trying to find a way to take him.

ALEX NIMO– Nimo got the chance to take on defenders and he did so repeatedly, with some successful results. His shiftiness made some defenders drop off of him and give him some space but I still didn’t see any real blazing speed. He’s a nice young player to be sure but he’s clearly a real long-term project.

PETER LOWRY– Smooth central midfielder showed why some coaches think he’s MLS ready, scoring a pair of goals on Sunday after helping set up Saturday’s only goal. Not a flashy player but gets into good positions, makes crisp passes and has a good workrate. He’s a Top-20 player for my money.

El-HADJ CISSE– Big and strong forward scored a nice blast of a goal but I wonder about his speed and ability to create chances for himself on the next level.

DOMINIC CERVI– Has emerged as the best goalkeeper in the draft. Another good day for the 6-foot-6 Tulsa kid. How well has he played? U.S. Under-23 national team coach saw him play and has called him into the U.S. Under-23 national team camp in Bradenton.

JON LEATHERS– Not the biggest defender you’ll find but he reads the game extremely well and always looks to be in the right position. After looking good at right back on Saturday he played central defense on Sunday with good results. A nice run forward that he capped off with a 20-yard goal must have surely caught the eye of the coaches who were still paying attention.

RICARDO PIERRE-LOUIS– Continues to show good skills and speed and creates decent chances for himself, but he has yet to score a goal and that may start to prove worrisome to some coaches. That said, he has already shown enough to have teams think about him as a second-round option. If he shows up on Tuesday and scores some goals, then he might start thinking about first-round possibilities. Probably not though.

ANDY IRO– Didn’t stand out as much today as Saturday but he’s still one of the top two defenders in the draft (along with James).

YOMBY WILLIAM– A pretty good day for the big central defender, including a play where he raced down an attacker who broke in behind the defense on a breakaway. He has the size and speed and, while he’s raw, he’s certainly impressed some coaches.

Now, there weren’t too many players who were truly bad but there were highly-rated players who failed to standout. Here are some:

XAVIER BALC– Better Sunday than Saturday but I’m still waiting for the special qualities that are going to make a team consider him in the first round. Had a chance to show off his free kick skills but sent a close-range free kick into the stands.

STEPHEN KING– May have been the least impressive of the U.S. Under-23 players who made their Sunday debuts. He’s a good player but a few coaches wonder if he’s really an impact player.

ROGER ESPINOZA– Like Balc, Espinoza played better on Sunday but he still isn’t finishing off plays with good crosses or shots. He can certainly run at people and passed a bit better on Sunday, but he still looks several years away from being a real MLS contributor.

CASEY LATCHEM– If you’re sensing an Ohio State them it really isn’t my intention. Latchem looked pretty bad on Sunday and is arguably the worst goalkeeper here. Doesn’t look overly quick and he bobbled a couple of easy possessions. Nerves may have played a part but given how well the goalkeepers have been playing here, Latchem has a lot of ground to make up on Tuesday.

JULIAN VALENTIN– If there’s a player who has fallen woefully short of his expectations, I feel as if Valentin is it. He looks slow and has failed to impress on either day Sunday. I really don’t see him being an MLS defender but there are coaches who rate him so he’ll get his chance. (UPDATE) As it turns out, Valentin is still dealing with issues stemming from the facial injuries he suffered in the College Cup final. This may have contributed to his less than stellar showing on Sunday. I still see him as a mid to late second round pick at best.

CIARAN O’BRIEN– I’m still waiting to see something out of O’Brien. He was better on Sunday but for me, I still haven’t seen him be a player that makes sense as a first-round pick, even with his Generation adidas designation.

I’m sure there were other players who I missed, but these are the players who I feel really stood out and the ones who didn’t play up to expectations. There were other players who were disappointing, but these are the ones who actually came in highly rated.

Share your thoughts on these observations below.


  1. @Joamiq

    If only the Dynamo could get him… in a few years with Holden on the right and Shea on the left the Dynamo could have the best groomed wingers of any team on the planet!

  2. Buzz Carrick’s comments on Valentin: “Valentin (93) only played the first half and he did what I expected. Strong and tough, good reader of the game… and he got his doors blown off with pace by Brek Shea. Valentin had to bring Shea down from behind for what should have been a PK but was instead a free right outside the box.”

    This Brek Shea kid has really made a name for himself at the combine. I’m not really sure how I feel about his hair though:
    I mean, I’m normally a fan of mohawk type haircuts, but something about this just looks wrong… but anyway, if the kid can play, he can wear his hair any way he wants.

  3. Okay, martinez. We get it now. Thank God Ives did say he was there doing his duty…

    (See, I can have a juvenile giggle too.)

  4. Guys, Valentin could wind up being a great MLS pro. I just don’t rate him based on what I’ve seen of him at the U-20 World Cup, some college games and his combine showing on Sunday. He obviously has some skills to be rated so highly by a variety of people, but I haven’t seen enough to think he’s any better than a bunch of other defenders in the draft.

  5. What I hear about Valentin is that he’s loved for his intangibles and especially for his character and personality; he’ll be big-time in the locker room. And that his speed isn’t much of an issue because he reads the game real well. I heard he wasn’t nearly as poor Sunday as Ives suggests.

  6. I was wondering where the hate was coming from! I didnt know the line was changed!

    WE SAW PLENTY OF THOSE TOOLS while your at a combine?! HYSTERICS GALOUR!

    I am 28, with a funny bone remaining. Obviously, so does Ives.

    I need an online posse to watch my back like Mr. Galarcep.

  7. Valentine failed to impress at the Combine on Saturday b/c he did not play. He was traveling in from U-23 camp.

    While, not his biggest fan, I will point out that in MLS you don’t have to be the fastest or most physical player to make a decent centerback. Valentine has a head for the game and a lot of heart. He’s not a top 10 draft pick, but he’ll play in MLS and do fairly well I think… There are much worse players starting for some teams.

  8. A lot of guys would not be on the radar of any team anywhere if it wasn’t for MLS. Perkins is a perfect example. He didn’t even get draft in MLS and now he’s moved overseas. If it wasn’t for MLS he’d be working the rental counter at Thrifty instead of developing a taste for cod fish…

    As for Twellman, he chose not to gamble when on his future when he signed that contract. Now he wants to enjoy the pay off as if he did. Sorry, buddy. You should have taken the risk. And there are plenty of guys in Europe whose clubs won’t sell them either.

  9. A team shouldn’t have to an accept a transfer bid if it feels like the amount is too low. Just like teams don’t have to agree to a trade if what they are getting back is too little (in their opinion). I get while Twellman is frustrated, but there’s not much that can/should change in this situation…IMO.

  10. Tony-

    or even better, someone like Troy Perkins, who went from making $20k in a developmental contract to making $250K or so in Norway in 18 months.

  11. Yeah, the Dempsey one was a smooth, fun-loving kind of ordeal, but someone was correct to point out it does seem like it is more or a Revs thing than MLS.

  12. hopefully someone can tell these guys they would be better off long-term in Denmark/Belgium/Norway than signing with MLS and never being able to get a transfer out in the future.

  13. re Valentin – wonder if his injury made him more tentative and affected his normal style and confidence on the field.

    “During Saturday afternoon’s scrimmage with the U-17s, Jules took a header that opened up the wound on his face. Athletic trainer Marcus Holliday took him to get seven more stitches in his face just before he took off for the combine. He played half of a game at the combine while wearing one of those concussion-prevention headbands to protect the wound. He said it didn’t bother him too badly, but it just made sense for him to go home and take care of himself.”

  14. Peter Lowry might be a nice choice for New England if he’s still around at #13 or #18. He’d be a good replacement for Andy Dorman.


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